The Evening Blues - 3-29-16
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues and r&b singer and guitarist, Tarheel Slim. Enjoy!
Tarheel Slim - No 9 Train
"The enormous gap between what US leaders do in the world and what Americans think their leaders are doing is one of the great propaganda accomplishments of the dominate political mythology."
-- Michael Parenti
News and Opinion
'The FBI’s credibility just hit a new low. They repeatedly lied to the court and the public in pursuit of a dangerous precedent that would have made all of us less safe.'
Following a high-profile attempt by the FBI and Department of Justice to force Apple to hack its own security encryption features, the federal government threw in the towel on Monday as it announced that it had successfully accessed information on the iPhone belonging to one of the perpetrators of the mass shooting in San Bernadino, California late last year.
The case that became known as Apple vs. FBI, which pitched digital privacy and civil liberties advocates against the federal government, created an international stir as Apple challenged a court ruling demanding that it create code that would allow federal agents to get inside the locked phone of Syed Farook, who along with his wife killed 14 people and wounded 22 others during a workplace shooting in December.
According to Fight for the Future, a digital and privacy rights group which helped lead opposition to the government's case and applauded Apple for standing firm against the court order, Monday's announcement should not come as a surprise given that the consensus among credible technical experts was always that the FBI always had likely other ways to bypass the iPhone’s security. The government’s real goal, according to the group, was not to access the data on one specific phone, but rather an effort to establish a legal precedent that could compel private companies to build backdoors into their products.
"The FBI’s credibility just hit a new low," said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future. "They repeatedly lied to the court and the public in pursuit of a dangerous precedent that would have made all of us less safe. Fortunately, Internet users mobilized quickly and powerfully to educate the public about the dangers of backdoors, and together we forced the government to back down."
Journalists: please remember that government argued for months that this was impossible, despite expert consensus. pic.twitter.com/7QdkjRKpXg
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 28, 2016
The battle between the Department of Justice and Apple is far from over – it’s probably just begun. The agency merely dropped its most well-known case; there are at least a dozen other similar legal fights open against Apple around the country, and those are just the ones we know about.
So far, there is no evidence that the FBI plans on abandoning the others, despite the agency’s apparent new-found ability to break into at least some versions of the iPhone without Apple’s assistance. Judging by the statement released to the press on Monday night, it sounds like they plan on pressing forward even harder.
“It remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety, either with cooperation from relevant parties, or through the court system when cooperation fails,” a justice department spokesman said. “We will continue to pursue all available options for this mission, including seeking the cooperation of manufacturers and relying upon the creativity of both the public and private sectors.” ...
Instead of attempting to ask Congress for a bill to ban the implementation of end-to-end encryption, which they probably know is a non-starter given public resistance, they may now be incentivized to take their fight even further into the shadows, using government secrecy to obscure their actions from the public. This is unfortunately the most likely scenario after their attempt to take this case to the public backfired so spectacularly. ...
Don’t be surprised if justice department instead attempts to keep future cases sealed from all but Apple’s lawyers, denying the public the right to even know that court battles are going on for as long as possible. Or perhaps they’ll go to the ultra-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court and demand the same thing, where they’re even more likely to be able to argue with no opposing side present and will all but ensure the public won’t find out what happened for years.
The demonstration of Russian military might during Vladimir Putin’s air campaign in Syria has increased interest from arms buyers and could result in several billion dollars in new sales, analysts and media have said. ...
Kommersant newspaper reported on Monday that the “marketing effect” from the Syrian campaign could lead to contracts worth $6bn-$7bn, quoting sources in the Russian government, military and arms export structures. Algeria, Indonesia, Vietnam and even Pakistan, which has long purchased military aircraft from China and the US, intend to buy Sukhoi fighter and bomber jets, it reported. ...
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said the Syria operation had affected Russian arms sales “extremely positively” by showing Moscow has effective weapons and can challenge western influence. “Russia basically proved it has political will, it has balls, because normally people don’t buy weapons from losers,” he said.
Heavy fighting erupted in the Syrian Qalamoun Mountains on Sunday, with ISIS pushing into regions held by al-Qaeda. The fighting raged into Monday, and moved further west, with both sides crossing into Lebanon, where al-Qaeda forces aimed to take ISIS territory along the border.
Lebanon has struggled with spill-over violence throughout the Syrian Civil War, with both ISIS and Nusra operating around the hills in the Bekaa Valley, and occasionally clashing with Lebanese security forces in the town of Arsal.
Efforts by the United States and other rich nations to resettle Syrians are devastatingly inadequate, said Oxfam International, which is asking countries attending the United Nations refugee conference this week to commit to open their doors to those fleeing the violence that has been intensified, largely, by their own failed policies in the Middle East. ...
Since 2013, only 67,108 Syrians have been resettled. Meanwhile, there are more than 4.8 million Syrian migrants in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and elsewhere in the region.
President Barack Obama had pledged to accept just 10,000 Syrians between October 2015 and September 2016, but according to the analysis, currently less than 1,000 Syrians have come to the U.S.. Since January 2013, less than 3,000 have been offered refugee status by the U.S.
Since abandoning his nation’s ceasefire with the Kurdish PKK in July, Turkish President Recep Erdogan reports that the military has killed “more than 5,000 Kurdish militants,” and that 355 security forces have been killed.
This is dramatically more than had been reported over the course of the war since July, though of course the Turkish government often disputes accounts from human rights groups of civilian deaths, insisting every Kurd killed is a PKK fighter.
North Korea fired a short-range missile over the sea off its east coast on Tuesday, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency said, citing a military official. ...
Leader Kim Jong-un has presided over a string of short-range missile launches in recent weeks in what state media has characterized as a response to United Nations sanctions imposed upon the isolated country for its fourth nuclear test in January.
Meanwhile, the White House said on Monday that US President Barack Obama would meet South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday to discuss North Korea's nuclear program.
The meeting on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington will take place the same day Obama talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Washington increasingly seems like a new land, sporting something like a new system in the midst of our much-described polarized and paralyzed politics. The national security state doesn’t seem faintly paralyzed or polarized to me. Nor does the Pentagon. ... So the other day, when this news came out, I stopped a moment to take it in. If accurate, we killed 150 more or less nobodies (except to those who knew them) and maybe even a top leader or two in a country most Americans couldn’t locate on a map. ...
Remind me: On just what basis was this modest massacre carried out? After all, the U.S. isn’t at war with Somalia or with al-Shabab. Of course, Congress no longer plays any real role in decisions about American war making. ...
A new, informal constitution is being written in these years in Washington. No need for a convention or a new bill of rights. It’s a constitution focused on the use of power, especially military power, and it’s being written in blood.
These days, our government (the unparalyzed one) acts regularly on the basis of that informal constitution-in-the-making, committing Somalia-like acts across significant swathes of the planet. In these years, we’ve been marrying the latest in wonder technology, our Hellfire-missile-armed drones, to executive power and slaughtering people we don’t much like in majority Muslim countries with a certain alacrity. By now, it’s simply accepted that any commander-in-chief is also our assassin-in-chief, and that all of this is part of a wartime-that-isn’t-wartime system, spreading the principle of chaos and dissolution to whole areas of the planet, leaving failed states and terror movements in its wake.
When was it, by the way, that “the people” agreed that the president could appoint himself assassin-in-chief, muster his legal beagles to write new "law" that covered any future acts of his (including the killing of American citizens), and year after year dispatch what essentially is his own private fleet of killer drones to knock off thousands of people across the Greater Middle East and parts of Africa? Weirdly enough, after almost 14 years of this sort of behavior, with ample evidence that such strikes don’t suppress the movements Washington loathes (and often only fan the flames of resentment and revenge that help them spread), neither the current president and his top officials, nor any of the candidates for his office have the slightest intention of ever grounding those drones.
And when exactly did the people say that, within the country’s vast standing military, which now garrisons much of the planet, a force of nearly 70,000 Special Operations personnel should be birthed, or that it should conduct covert missions globally, essentially accountable only to the president (if him)? And what I find strangest of all is that few in our world find such developments strange at all.
Argentina’s government is celebrating a decision by a UN commission to expand its maritime territory in the South Atlantic Ocean by 35% to include the disputed Falkland islands and beyond.
The Argentine foreign ministry said its waters had increased by 1.7 million square km (0.66 million square miles) and the decision will be key in its dispute with Britain over the islands. Argentina lost a brief, bloody 1982 war with Britain after Argentinian troops seized the South Atlantic archipelago that Latin Americans call the Malvinas.
The UN commission on the limits of the continental shelf sided with Argentina, ratifying the country’s 2009 report fixing the limit of its territory at 200 to 350 miles from its coast. ...
There was no immediate comment from the British government.
The most important labor union controversy to reach the Supreme Court in years sputtered to an end on Tuesday, with a four-to-four split, no explanation, and nothing settled definitely. The one-sentence result in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association will leave intact, but on an uncertain legal foundation, a system of “agency fees” for non-union teachers in California — with the legal doubts for public workers’ unions across the nation probably lingering until a ninth Justice joins the Court at some point in the future.
The practical effect was to leave undisturbed a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which had simply found itself bound by a prior Supreme Court precedent upholding such fees against constitutional challenge. The Ninth Circuit had before it a case specifically filed as a test of that precedent, and only the Supreme Court could revisit that prior ruling, binding on all lower courts.
The Court had heard the Friedrichs case on January 11 and, from all appearances then, it seemed to be on its way toward a five-to-four decision to declare that it would be unconstitutional for unions representing government employees to charge fees to workers they represent but who are not among its members, even when the fees cover the costs of normal union bargaining over working conditions, not lobbying or outright political advocacy. But the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last month left the Court to either find a way still to decide the case, or to end it with an even split. ...
Lawyers involved said Tuesday that a rehearing petition will be filed.
North Caroline has become ground zero in the fight for gay and transgender rights in the United States.
A sweeping new anti-LGBT law that was controversially passed during a special session of the state's legislature and swiftly signed into law last week excludes a person's sexual orientation from discrimination protection, nullifies anti-discrimination bills passed by local municipalities, sends discrimination claims to federal courts, and forces transgender students and adults who have not undergone sex-reassignment surgery to use the bathroom of their gender at birth.
On Monday, three plaintiffs — two transgender men and a lesbian woman — filed a federal lawsuit against HB2 that is being supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, Equality North Carolina, and Lambda Legal. The lawsuit, which names the state's Republican Governor Pat McRory, the University of North Carolina, and the state's attorney general as defendants, charges that HB2 "bans transgender people from accessing restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity and blocks local governments from protecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender ('LGBT') people against discrimination in a wide variety of settings."
The plaintiffs say the law denies their right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment and violates Title IX, which they argue treats transgender bathroom discrimination as sex discrimination. The lawsuit says that gender dysphoria is "a serious medical condition that if left untreated can lead to clinical distress, debilitating depression, and even suicidal thought and acts," and notes that treatment for gender dysphoria includes permitting a person to live their life consistent with their gender identity, "including when accessing single-sex spaces like restrooms and locker rooms."
Bank of America, Microsoft Denounce North Carolina’s Anti-LGBT Law, but Fund Politicians Who Passed It
Bank of America, Lowe’s, Microsoft, and American Airlines all have two things in common: They have strongly criticized North Carolina’s new law that prevents local governments from prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and money from their affiliated political action committees helped put the politicians who passed the law in office.
Representatives from Bank of America and Lowe’s declined to answer questions from The Intercept about whether they plan to stop contributing to the responsible politicians. American Airlines’s corporate communications manager stated, “We don’t discuss future contributions.” Microsoft did not respond to inquiries before publication.
The North Carolina law, which has been widely condemned in the business world, as well as by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, was an initiative of the state’s Republican Party, which controls both houses of the state legislature. The bill passed the North Carolina House 83-25 and the state Senate 32-0 after all the Senate Democrats walked out; it was signed into law by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.
Journalist John Pilger relates a chilling tale that indicates Truthout.com is part of the Democratic Party's gatekeeper system.
On March 22 and later, my article, “Start of a New Cold War,” was published across the Web (including at Consortiumnews.com).
As has been my practice for years, I syndicated it to an international network, which included Truthout.com, the liberal American website. Truthout publishes some important journalism, not least Dahr Jamail’s outstanding corporate exposes. But Truthout rejected the piece because, said an editor, it had appeared on Counterpunch and had broken “guidelines.” I replied that this had never been a problem over many years and I knew of no guidelines.
My recalcitrance was then given another meaning. The article was reprieved provided I submitted to a “review” and agreed to changes and deletions made by Truthout’s “editorial committee.” The result was the softening and censoring of my criticism of Hillary Clinton, and the distancing of her from Trump. The following was cut:
“Trump is a media hate figure. That alone should arouse our skepticism. Trump’s views on migration are grotesque, but no more grotesque than David Cameron. It is not Trump who is the Great Deporter from the United States, but the Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama … The danger to the rest of us is not Trump, but Hillary Clinton. She is no maverick. She embodies the resilience and violence of a system … As presidential Election Day draws near, Clinton will be hailed as the first female president, regardless of her crimes and lies — just as Barack Obama was lauded as the first black president and liberals swallowed his nonsense about ‘hope.’”
The “editorial committee” clearly wanted me to water down my argument that Clinton represented a proven extreme danger to the world. Like all censorship, this was unacceptable.
Maya Schenwar, who runs Truthout, wrote to me that my unwillingness to submit my work to a “process of revision” meant she had to take it off her “publication docket.” Such is the gatekeeper’s way with words.
Actor and activist Susan Sarandon, an outspoken Sanders supporter, caught MSNBC's Chris Hayes by surprise during an interview on Monday when she told him she's not certain she could ever bring herself to vote for Hillary Clinton.
When Hayes lobbed the accusation that rejecting Clinton in a Trump v. Clinton general election might be "dangerous," Sarandon argued that a vote for Clinton is a vote for the status quo—which is itself a dangerous decision. "If you think that it’s pragmatic to shore up the status quo right now," Sarandon said, "then you’re not in touch with the status quo. The status quo is not working."
"If we continue the way we are with a militarized police force, with privatized prisons, with the death penalty, with the low minimum wage, with the threats to women’s rights," Sarandon continued, "and you think we can’t do something huge to turn that around because the country is not in good shape? If you’re in the middle class, it’s disappearing."
Sarandon's profound problems with Clinton's candidacy reflect a deep distrust of the former secretary of state shared by many voters, and signals potential trouble for the Democratic establishment as the election continues.
Comedian Sarah Silverman struck similar notes to Sarandon on Monday, as she released a new video urging viewers to vote for the Vermont senator.
As a feminist, Silverman says, she was once excited to vote for Clinton: "A Democratic woman president? Yes please! But she takes a lot of money from big corporations and banks," Silverman laments, "the very people she says she’s going to stand up to."
In contrast, "Bernie is not for sale. This man is running for president on a platform which is just a giant 'fuck you' to the billionaire class."
To those viewers who might fear Sanders' democratic socialism, Silverman retorts, "Good lord, don’t worry, under President Sanders you can still become a super-rich asshole! It’s just that your fellow hardworking citizens don’t have to feed their children cat food in order for you to do it."
Bernie Sanders failed to impress major media outlets over the weekend as he barely managed to win seventy per cent of the vote in three western primaries.
The major cable networks briefly mentioned Sanders’s vote tallies in Washington, Alaska, and Hawaii but noted that he ran out of steam well shy of eighty per cent.
“There’s no point in sugarcoating it,” one analyst put it. “Rough night for Sanders.”
— suZee (@BigOlSoulSista) March 28, 2016
Leslie Lee III is a writer and English teacher from Baton Rouge, LA who lives in Yokahama, Japan with his wife, Kelly, and their dog, Taco. His writing ranges from essays and articles on politics and Japanese wrestling, to the novel he is working on with his father about Kentucky’s Black coal miners. But according to some sources, Lee does not actually exist. He’s a figment of the imagination. Because he’s both Black and a supporter of Bernie Sanders.
The nice thing about the notion of the unbearable whiteness of being a Sanders supporter is that it doesn’t need to be based in reality. On Saturday, for example, CNN attributed Sanders’ landslide victories in Alaska, Hawaii and Washington primaries to the whitey-mcwhiteyness of the states:
These caucus states — largely white and rural — are the type of places Sanders traditionally does well. In order to win the nomination, he must replicate this success in other, more ethnically diverse states that hold primaries, as he did in Michigan last month. In theory, it’s possible. But the reality is tough.
— Internet Palace (@InternetPalace) March 27, 2016
Lee explained, “The common narrative in this election that Bernie has a ‘minority problem’ or that all his supporters are ‘bros’ is pervasive, and insulting to the POCs [People of Color] and women who support [him].” But, “it hit a peak… when Hawaii, the least white state in the nation, retroactively became white or ‘not diverse’ due to the fact that Bernie won it. So, I started #BernieMadeMeWhite.”
— Simran Jeet Singh (@SikhProf) March 28, 2016
Sen. Bernie Sanders’s landslide victories in Washington State, Alaska and Hawaii on Saturday coincided with a long-awaited signal that he may finally be ready to challenge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the “Commander-in-Chief” question, which has been regarded as one of her key strengths.
In what may be the most striking campaign commercial of the presidential race, the Sanders campaign released an ad, entitled “The Cost of War” and featuring Hawaii’s Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq War veteran who endorsed Sanders not just as her preference for President but as Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. military.
... Perhaps her most important statement comes at the end of the 90-second commercial when she says: “My name is Tulsi Gabbard and I support Bernie Sanders to be our next President and Commander-in-Chief.”
The phrase “Commander-in-Chief” is one that Sanders has largely sidestepped in the early phases of the Democratic presidential race, conceding Clinton’s superior qualifications on foreign policy though questioning her judgment when she voted for the Iraq War in 2002. Yet, what the Gabbard ad seems to recognize is that Sanders’s campaign could rally a substantial part of the Democratic “base” and win over many “regular” Democrats by challenging Clinton on her hawkish proclivity for “regime change” wars. ...
Many Democrats have a deep distrust of Clinton who – though now highlighting her more “progressive” positions – seems eager to “pivot to the center” once she nails down the nomination, a hunger that was reflected in her pandering speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee convention last week.
Many neoconservatives and “liberal interventionists” now see Clinton as the vessel carrying their hopes for more “regime change” wars. ...
Though much of Clinton’s neocon-style warmongering is unpopular with the Democratic “base,” Sanders has treaded lightly in these areas during his primary challenge to her long-anticipated coronation as the Democratic presidential nominee. ...
With Gabbard praising Sanders as her choice for “Commander-in-Chief,” she implicitly seeks to neutralize Clinton’s supposed strong suit – her foreign-policy experience – and transform it into a weakness.
The question now is whether Gabbard’s assistance to Sanders has come too late.
President Barack Obama on Monday laid some of the blame for the tone of the presidential campaign on political journalism that has been pinched by shrinking newsroom budgets and cheapened by a focus on retweets and likes on social media.
In a speech to a journalism awards dinner, Syracuse University’s Toner prize for excellence in political reporting, Obama urged journalists to ask tougher questions of the candidates vying to be president.
He voiced dismay over the vulgar rhetoric, violence at rallies and unrealistic campaign pledges that have continually grabbed headlines, in a thinly veiled reference to Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
“The number one question I’m getting as I travel around the world or talk to world leaders right now is, what is happening in America about our politics?” Obama said, describing international alarm over whether the United States will continue to function effectively.
This is an excellent analysis based on the Wapo explainer from the other day, “How Clinton’s email scandal took root.” It's worth a full look, but this part is worth emphasizing:
From the summary:
11. Clinton did what Clinton wanted to do despite FOIA regulations, security concerns, etc. She wanted to bring her private Blackberry into her office and use a single device abroad. And that is exactly what she did.
Any other government official engaging in such widespread misconduct would be fired, possibly prosecuted, and would lose her security clearance.
Clinton’s email hairball foreshadows her character as President. As ScottW comments: “Clinton did what Clinton wanted to do.” And that’s regardless of what she said, and despite advice given to her in good faith. So if Clinton wants TPP, a Grand Bargain, or war in [insert country here], that’s what she’ll go for, regardless of what she says on the trail, or the counsel of the wise.
Clinton’s email hairball foreshadows the nature of her administration. As WaPo says:
From the earliest days, Clinton aides and senior officials to use her private email account, documents and interviews show.
Throughout, they paid [i.e., broke] governing the handling of classified material and the preservation of government records, interviews and documents show. They also neglected repeated warnings about the security of the BlackBerry while Clinton and her closest aides took obvious security risks in using the basement server.
In other words, Clinton’s staffers, rather like Erlichman and Haldeman, regard themselves not as public servants, but as Clinton’s servants.
Oil and gas drilling has made parts of the central United States as dangerous as the most earthquake-prone regions of California, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), exposing millions of people to the risk of human-induced earthquakes, known as "frackquakes."
According to new maps released on Monday by the USGS, roughly 7 million people who live and work in parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arkansas face "potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity," which the USGS notes is triggered primarily by wastewater disposal from oil and gas drilling activities.
"Within a few portions of the [Central and Eastern U.S.], the chance of damage from all types of earthquakes is similar to that of natural earthquakes in high-hazard areas of California," the USGS states, with Oklahoma being the most prone to induced earthquakes and having the largest at-risk population.
Oklahoma has seen a rapid increase in earthquakes registering at or above a 3.0 magnitude per year, surging from 109 in 2013 to over 900 in 2015.
One of Alaska’s most active volcanoes has emitted a 37,000ft (11,300-metre) ash cloud that has grounded flights, affecting thousands of travelers and cutting off remote communities in the west and north.
Pavlof volcano erupted on Sunday afternoon but strong winds on Monday pushed the cloud higher and into the heart of the state until it stretched over more than 400 miles (650km).
“It’s right in the wheelhouse of a lot of flights crisscrossing Alaska,” said geologist Chris Waythomas, of the US Geological Survey (USGS), part of the Alaska Volcano Observatory, along with the University of Alaska and the state Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys. ...
The USGS raised the volcano alert to its highest level, which warns of hazards both in the air and on the ground.
They come by night and they steal the future.
Every year, poachers in Nicaragua and other countries wait for cover of darkness and then make their way onto the beaches where endangered sea turtles have just laid their eggs. Working quickly, they dig up the precious eggs—hundreds at a time—and disappear. Some of the eggs turn up a few days later, priced as low as 20 cents apiece in local bars. Others travel thousands of miles to the United States or China, where they can sell for upwards of $150 each.
Exactly how the stolen eggs get from a beach in Nicaragua to a restaurant in Hong Kong remains unknown, frustrating efforts to combat the black market trade. A new project hopes to solve that.
The nonprofit Paso Pacifico is in the process of developing an innovative fake egg to help conservationists better understand—and maybe stop—the illegal trade. The eggs will contain a GSM transmitter hidden inside a 3-D-printed shell made to look exactly like what poachers would find within a fresh sea turtle nest. The fakes, each the size of a ping-pong ball, will then be tracked over cellular networks along their smuggling routes to their final destinations.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Tarheel Slim & Little Ann - Can't Stay Away
Tarheel Slim & Little Ann - It's Too Late
Tarheel Slim - Wildcat tamer
Tarheel Slim - So Sweet So Sweet
Tarheel Slim & Little Ann - Security
Tarheel Slim & Ann - You Make Me Feel So Good
The Larks - Rockin' In The Rocket Room